Can we see the light? Or just an optimistic perspective?
Can we see the light? Or just an optimistic perspective?
Firstly, my heart goes out to every single person impacted by COVID whether hit by the virus or impacted by its financial devastation.
After four months of lockdown, are we finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? Does going from a socially distanced garden gathering of 6 to enabling a ‘Support Bubble’ give us a positive sign? With the usually doom-infested media teasing us with the 2-metre rule being relaxed, is there hope that the UK is really on the ascent? Or is the barrage of upbeat industry emails based on unfounded optimism from a battered travel and events industry?
With so much time, I’ve sensed we’re all shifting from the initial baking, drinking, gardening phase to more meaningful lockdown goals and challenges …. and I hope this is in preparation for ‘The Exit’.
Whether you’re a ‘baby stepper’ or a full-on go-getter, undoubtedly the world is finally getting geared up for getting back to business with constraints still in place. Whether party politics, media spin, or just basic wishful thinking … there seems to be a genuine, true light at the end of the dark tunnel we’ve all been going through. As countries ease and phase-out of their lockdown handcuffs with positive signs of COVID decline (albeit in some parts of the world), bruised economies are eagerly ramping up bright and optimistic messages about a return to business with a whole new promise to be COVID fit to re-assure anxious corporate and agency planners. Undoubtedly there is much speculation, as to whether there will be a bounce-back or a baby steps return to the unknown ‘new normal’.
Between the sourdough baking and gardening, as I shared in my last blog, I’ve zoomed in and out of various talks, webinars and industry catch-ups to try and get a fairly balanced view from the UK based events industry as well as a splattering of corporate views on the current outlook.
The last few weeks, the industry has definitely stepped up its game to make more creative use of time in ‘Zoomland’. Discussions are getting more real and open which is refreshing. Just when I was prepared to switch off and totally disconnect from cyberspace, my FOMO got teased by pesky industry brands. Just when I thought I’d had one virtual cocktail too many, a little box arrived at home with an invitation and a miniature bottle of the African liqueur Amarula. Come to Africa!
The first stand out was from my African stalwart Green Route Africa. It’s no secret I am an Africa nut. The chance to have streaming sunshine and a zooming lion in glorious South Africa in real-time, I was there. A clever chance to reunite some fam trip eventprofs from a few years back, we journeyed across the stunning Shamwari Private Reserve near Port Elizabeth. Following a tease of a poolside G&T (very cruel), we shared a sip of our pre-delivered Amanrula, as we jumped from live streams of spectacular wildlife and commentary from the reserve’s rangers.
It was a highly effective use of an hour; we reconnected with some industry friends, introduction to a new product, and a well driven, informal experience that didn’t rely on the normal verbal, stuttering volleyball Zoom session we’re mostly used to.
The second standout is this week’s micebook ‘talks’. Whilst I am an occasional part-time collaborator and co-conspirator on this much needed central industry portal, my sourdough commissions have restricted my time in recent months so sadly I am a latecomer to the sessions and now playing catch up.
Whilst privy to the initial plans and the keenest supporter, I joined the expanded ‘talks’ session yesterday purely with my event buyer hat on and was keen to experience like every other participant with little knowledge of the final agenda. Testing a new platform would throw up some tech issues and learnings but Chetan and the partners should be proud to have captured a quality and voluminous gathering with a programme engaging us for a full afternoon. It offered numerous pop in sessions and chat rooms with a range of subjects followed by hosted fun lounges hosted by MICE brand members. Plus some polls and a ‘get you in the gut’ keynote opener.
As an eventprof, most readers will have experienced the impact of a dynamic keynote speaker who will hopefully resonate with the audience. During the lockdown, I’ve been hooked on Oprah Talks COVID-19 on Apple TV+. A series of remote conversations with a fascinating, diverse and interesting bunch of experts and everyday people to provide ‘insight, meaning and tangible advice for the human spirit’ during the lockdown.
At a time when the industry is hanging on every glimmer of hope, inspiration and encouragement, micebook cleverly brings us a powerful keynote speaker to highlight some key thoughts in combatting the many scars of COVID.
The ‘Baby Boomers’ and Gen X will remember John Peters, a former RAF officer, captured in Iraq in early 1990’s. We oldies will never forget the television images of his battered and bruised face in captivity. John hardly scratched the surface of his full story in the little time allowed in the keynote address, yet he amazingly captivated us all with snippets from an experience of fear, isolation and hope. Using his experience, being a POW, John shared parallels with our current reality in “looking beyond the walls” and ensuring he would “not come out a damaged man” and recognising that the worst enemy in isolation was his “imagination”. Powerful, humbling words. Thank you John and micebook.
Other recent Zoom highlights include a regular update and overview from the good people at ALHI. Their President & CEO Michael Dominguez provides an eloquent and insightful overview from a global perspective on the pandemic, trends and American-centric insights on the MICE industry response and plans with practical steps being addressed by the hotel sector.
I’ve zoomed through the regions of Nepal with the charming folks at Distant Frontiers with their powerhouse UK marketeer Mags Shaw at the steering wheel. This is a destination that has been high on my bucket list for many years and one I am determined to experience either personally or with an incentive programme in the future. Plus thanks to Mundus, I recently zoomed through the hotel world of their Viceroy Hotels & Resorts for a whirlwind journey discovering their portfolio for which I had little prior knowledge.
So, you think I’m simply a Zoom party goer and bread baker?!
Poppycock … I’ve been uber busy with this event downtime! I set my lockdown challenges. First, to set up and transfer to new financial accounting software for my company and learn the basic accounting/financial jargon/insights I should really know running a business, especially at my age! Job done! The second challenge. To improve my WordPress skills and revamp this eveology web site which I created over three years ago. Work in progress but almost there!
In addition, the time has given me a chance to develop the marketing consultancy side of the business. Eveology was always intended to be part events and part MICE industry collaborations. The ‘ology’ (meaning ‘branch of knowledge’) not only inspired the name but allowed me to support brands such as inVOYAGE, Accor, micebook and others with a variety of buyer-focused inspiration and marketing support to connect with the MICE market. With many brands looking for support post-COVID, a timely chance to develop my ology! A recent lockdown project included helping a hotel marketing company create a dynamic promo video and series of social media clips of their illustrious portfolio in preparation for COVID exit.
But to the main purpose of this wittering blog. To share a ‘personal’ take on the current outlook mostly for the benefit of my clients, industry friends and colleagues. With outlooks changing daily, this is almost out of date! ….
- Until risk-free travel returns to full service, quarantine and social distancing lifted etc – UK events are anticipated to be in more demand in short – mid-term.
- There is a focus on T&C’s to invigorate the market with client-friendly contract terms to future plan events with soft terms relating to deposits, cancellations and attrition. Cancellation clauses, especially during this lockdown phase, is naturally under the biggest spotlight for any forward planning agency or corporate.
- According to Pulse survey undertaken by US-based Northstar Meetings Group:
- Improved confidence in Live events
- More planners are sourcing and booking meetings and confidence in holding future events has improved with 40% of respondents signing contracts, reversing the downward trend
- While moving ahead with the planning process, 75% of respondents intend to offer a virtual component to their live events as an alternative for those who are not willing or able to travel.
- Planners want more flexible contract terms. However, given the hardship suppliers are experiencing, and the possibility of reduced inventory and high demand, 21% of respondents anticipate even more stringent contract terms for new business
- Small meetings will see the largest growth
- Virtual events won’t meet all needs.
- According to Conference & Incentive Travel / Global DMC Partners Survey:
- Incentives side, most programmes (52%) are still moving forward in 2021. For those not proceeding, only 5% are being replaced by gifts, 4% by cash, 3% by a virtual incentive event and 2% with the option of a personal trip.
- The majority are unsure about budgets in 2021
- 65% majority will host live events sometime between August 2020 and January 2021.
- 69% plan to go virtual or incorporate it into their 2020 programmes. The majority 63% have no plans to go virtual in 2021.
- According to micebook ‘talks’ polls yesterday with 500+ eventprofs:
- For UK events – 45% anticipate their first event in Q4 2020 with 37% indicating Q1 2021 for their first event post COVID.
- For International first events – majority 37% indicate Q1 2021 and 31% indicate Q2 2o21
- 64% believe that digital will not cannibalise live face-to-face events
The Hotel Perspective
- European hotels are looking to open from July 2020 and will be governed by their own easing of lockdown measures and regulations.
- Hotels are proactively implementing a series of social distancing measures and hygiene standards to reassure corporates, travellers and the market.
- With social distancing regulations, capacity severely impacted in meeting spaces, banqueting rooms, restaurants. Possibly to a third of their normal capacity. However, this is anticipated to change as measures relaxed.
- With cancelled events from March 2020 and global lockdowns – there is an anticipated pressure on availability (subject to travel restrictions and social distancing eased), in Q4 2020 and Q1 and Q2 2021. Yet to see if this is hotel spin and optimism!
The Airline Perspective
- A little normality is returning from July although air appears to be the most sensitive area of the event components in planning
- British Airways have published a broad plan for schedules reopening from July with some short-haul destinations being consolidated. Changes are expected and likely to be the most volatile aspect of the event planning cycle until travel bans, quarantines and restrictions lifted.
- Airlines are all offering their own measures to reassure passengers and conform to regulations with regards to distancing and hygiene.
The Personal Perspective
Eager as any eventprof, I am desperate to be planning, creating and plotting beautiful LIVE events. As an event planner foremost, despite my marketeer aspirations, the joy of delivering an exceptional live event experience is unsurpassed.
For all the hand sanitizer in China, I cannot anticipate ‘recommending’ business and event international travel until i) the world has a clean bill of health and/or ii) no restrictions in place. Our events are mostly incentive, social type reward-based luxury trips so I am struggling with the concept of enforcing such constraints with the type of programmes we undertake.
Hardy business travellers and small meetings will be first out of the gate to savour hotel social distancing – possibly with a mix of hybrid digital meeting concepts. That said, I have resilient clients where live events are embedded in their business culture and on the premise that financial constraints do not stifle future plans, you might see me during such times on social media! Time will tell!
The eternal optimist, I remain confident that the return will be strong and robust, if not to the pre-COVID levels, as soon as conditions deemed ‘safe’. Safe in terms of the virus control and/or eradication as well as stability with travel partners and the financial impact of COVID. As is typical with global dramas and travel bans, the UK will favour well in the short term but will only be considered a possible ‘stop-gap’ solution due to travel restrictions/FCO advice, and not a worthy replacement for the kudos of international travel experiences. A chance for the UK to shine and up their game?
I see the light … and I genuinely hope the industry truly sticks together to help support the very sad casualties of COVID. I am confident that the industry will be stronger, more focused and resilient as a result. As I’ve alluded in a previous blog, I am always available to support industry members, if they ever need an ear. You might even get an artisan sourdough loaf baked by yours truly!